6. The speculative letter
Speculative letters can be a very effective way to broaden your job-seeking horizons and apply to companies who you may never see advertising. Even a company is not currently hiring, there could be an opportunity in the future where they are looking for someone with your skills and if they have your CV on file with a good cover letter, they may need to look no further!
Although it may seem as though there are fewer opportunities in sending out a speculative letter, it is, in fact, more common than many realise as it is far cheaper for recruiters to employ someone without additional costs for advertising or recruitment agency fees. It can also be useful if you have a niche skill or specialised experience that you think might interest a company who may not necessarily recruit for that role but could lead them to think about a potential growth opportunity in their business.
Many people take quite a passive approach to job-hunting, relying only on advertised posts which may be quite limiting and for which they then have to compete against a vast number of applicants. If you are serious about job-hunting, you should also consider sending out speculative letters to companies whom you have researched – that way, you can read about a company and make an informed choice about whether or not you would like to work for them and increase your potential chances of employment success. In particular, if you find there are not many good roles in your field being advertised, you may feel more pressurised to accept a position that you might think was not the perfect role/company for you but obliged to take the job because there is nothing better available in the current marketplace.
With speculative letters, it is really worth thinking about the type of industry you are suited for and the environment that best suits your personality, e.g. a global advertising company with scope for international travel or a smaller, niche advertising firm where you feel you have a specialised skill that could be unique to that organisation. Researching organisations you would like to work for and sending them a targeted cover letter is a proactive approach and there is nothing to stop you from aiming high and applying to organisations you aspire to work for rather than an adopting an attitude of ‘everyone wants to work for them, there’s no point in trying!’ Of course, you should keep an open mind in your job search and look at all possibilities for recruitment but sending speculative letters allows you to increase your chances of getting your ideal job.
If you are a freelancer, sending speculative letters is more likely to be the most effective way in of finding work in order to build up a network of contacts and businesses whom you may work for at different times. Whilst some freelancing jobs will be advertised, again, competition tends to be high so a proactive job search is essential if you want to get regular work. As with all speculative letters, think about your USP so that you can approach companies with a unique skill or talent – there are websites where freelancers can post their details so it could be worth having a look at some in your field, and then coming up with an edge that allows you to offer something slightly different.
6.1 - Research
There is variety of sources to use to help in your search but the simplest would be to use local newspapers, trade magazines and the Internet. Certainly, online material would allow you to undertake indepth relevant research about an organisation which you could use when writing to them. Some websites will have a page entitled ‘About Us’ or ‘Careers’ which you should read carefully to get a good picture about the type of person they employ and the skills they require for particular roles.
You need to do as much research as possible to try to understand what is expected from the role for which you are applying (in general) – use the internet to look at job sites to get a variation of what the role could entail but also to understand the essential criteria that most employers would expect from the position. It might also be worth talking to recruitment agencies to find out what the competition is like in your field, particularly if there is a general shortage of a specific skill which you could offer or how you can enhance your current skills to be more attractive to an employer. There is no doubt this will take time and effort on your behalf but there is every possibility that the fruits of your labour will pay off.
Once you have ascertained this information, you should have a good basis to start writing your letter – it should be a combination of highlighting your strengths coupled with how you feel you could be an asset to their organisation.
6.2 - The first paragraph
Do not waste the opportunity of this opening paragraph by making the obvious statement that you are sending them your CV as many job-seekers do. Think about your USP, and specifically, what will make you stand out from others. It is essential that your first paragraph sparks the employer's interest and provides a brief summary of the benefits the employer will receive from you.
With regards to speculative letters, you need to justify why you are applying to them to grab the reader’s attention – if they are not currently recruiting, why should they look? Here is where your research will provide an opportunity to do just that. A few examples might be:
The company is expanding into other parts of the country, or internationally
They have just won a new contract or industry award which you have read about in the media
They are relocating their premises out of the city to a more suburban area
They are in the process of launching a new service
You have heard through networking that there may be job openings in your line of work
Weak opening paragraph:
Please find my CV attached with regards to potential opportunities as Account Manager within your company
Good opening paragraph:
I understand that you are in the process of relocating to new, larger premises in Basingstoke and expanding your Sales team. I am currently seeking my next challenging Account Manager role; I have increased the size and sales levels of my client base in every position I have held, which, in turn has increased the revenues and profits of my employers. I would like the opportunity to bring this same success to your company.
If you cannot come up with a ‘way-in’ for writing to a company as described above, you can still create a powerful opening paragraph, i.e.
As an evidently well-established and successful marketing company, I am writing to you to outline my background and experience. Having recently achieved my MA in Business and Marketing, I am confident that I have the skills and ability to be an asset to your team.